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Duke Giovanni of Sicily – Outrun the Black Death

The Covid-19 pandemic gave us all a taste of what life is like during an inescapable plague. Luckily, some of us, could work from home and continue enjoying a level of luxury unheard of by our ancestors. The same can't be said for Europeans during the Black Death (1347-1351).

Not only did the Black Plague last much longer than our modern pandemic, it was also far more deadly. If you contracted the plague you had a 30-70% chance of dying, depending on which of the three types of plague you caught.

There were 3 schools of thought when it came to escaping infection. Shelter in place was reserved for only the most wealthy of people, it was also the safest. Peasants couldn't afford to stay at home for the duration.

Others tried limiting the time they spent out in public. When they did go out, they carried satchels of herbs to block their noses with. The belief was that diseases spread through the inhalation of bad smells.

Just like we saw with the modern Covid-19 pandemic, others opted to go out more than ever. They reveled in the apocalyptic nature of the Black Death. Parties where healthy cavorted with the ill were common. These people died in the greatest numbers.

One man had another idea. Duke Giovanni of Sicily wasn't about to die in his estate. Instead, he chose the hermit's life. He stuck to the woods and only emerged for supplies. Joined by his servants, Giovanni lasted a year in this way.

The Plague in Sicily

Few places are better suited to serve as a port than Sicily. The island acts as a convenient stop for sailors in the Mediterranean. Whether you're heading East, West, or even North into the Italian Peninsula, Sicily is the place to be.

Messina is the third-largest city on Sicily. Sailors from Genoa arrived at port in Messina, but when they disembarked, everyone could tell there was something wrong. The sailors were very sick. Bodies covered in inflamed black buboes and a ship's hold full of the dead were the first signs.

The Sicilians started getting sick and dying. Officials banished the sailors, but it was too little too late. Plague had come to Sicily, and from there it would spread through Europe.

Messina was quickly ravaged by the Black Death. Citizens fled from what they assumed was their cursed city and spread throughout Sicily. Soon every city on the island was infected.

The Black Plague's reverberations of death rang across Sicily for a year. Cities were devastated. This was how it was after the first wave.

Duke Giovanni – Nothing Faster than Death

The Duke saw what was happening all over the island. He put two and two together and figured out that the disease followed people. That's why he decided to flee from civilization itself.

Duke Giovanni lived like a swamp witch, sticking to the wilds and avoiding population centers. He spent his days searching for shelter in abandoned structures. Spending a few days there before moving on. The man was literally trying to outrun the Black Death.

He meticulously avoided contact with any of the infected. Never entering any of the villages and towns affected by the disease. It would all prove to be in vain. He only managed to delay the inevitable.

Unfortunately for the intrepid Duke, no man can outrun his death. The Plague caught up to him at the tail end of its time in Sicily. He contracted the Black Death while staying in the Church of Sant'Andrea in 1348.

The Black Death wasted no time in claiming the runaway royal. Duke Giovanni was buried in April 1348.



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